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Edo Poll 2020: Odds before voters

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By the time Edo State gubernatorial poll holds on September 19, 2020, the state would have gone on record as the first state-wide election ever held amid COVID-19 pandemic. The general impression among Nigerians is that the election is a straight fight between incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of All Progressives Congress (APC).
   
However, beyond the two candidates and their political parties, there is a wide range of choices before the electorate in the state, especially given apprehensions over the coronavirus and election violence.
 
On top of the array of choices expected of the voters is the readiness to participate. The challenge is whether in view of threats to violence a substantial number of the potential voters with Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC) would readily come out to cast their ballot.

 
Next to the threat of widespread of violence is the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, also called COVID-19, on the balloting processes. The issue around that is that being the first election it is conducting after the outbreak of the pandemic, whether the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would adopt a different protocol or retain simultaneous accreditation and voting.
   
It would be recalled that in its response to the spiraling violence that threatened the Bayelsa State governorship election in December 2015, INEC under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu introduced the system of simultaneous accreditation and voting to stem the tide of hijack of ballot boxes by hoodlums.
 
Prior to that novelty, the process adopted by the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led INEC for the 2015 general elections was accreditation, which begins by 8:00am when polls open and ends by 12:00noon for voting to commence.
 
It was discovered that within the intervening period that accreditation took place and when balloting was to commence, dare devil political thugs swoop on the polling booths to hijack the electoral materials for ballot box stuffing.
   
Guided by the total number of accredited voters, the hoodlums were able to allocate votes according to their whim and to donate victory to their sponsors.
 
But, disabled by the innovative simultaneous accreditation and voting by Prof. Yakubu, the thugs could not disrupt the twice-postponed supplementary poll as it held successfully on January 5, 2016 without chance occurrences.
 
It is therefore against the background of fear of violence and concerns about the coronavirus, which has elicited a different set of protocols that stakeholders express worry that voter apathy might hamper optimal participation in the Edo State governorship election.
 
But, dismissing reservations in some quarters that the combined effect of fear of violence and COVID-19 protocol would necessitate a different voting process, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, said after the recent by-election in Nasarawa State, the commission was satisfied with its operational systems.
 
Oyekanmi noted that based on the Nasarawa State constituency by-election, the Edo State governorship poll scheduled for September 19, 2020, will actually be the second to be conducted by INEC after the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
 
He stated: “The first was the Nasarawa Central State Constituency by-election held on August 8, 2020 across 44 Polling Units. The Commission seized the opportunity to test run its new ‘Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic’, which was unveiled on 21st May and the Election Result Viewing Portal (IREeV Portal), which was introduced on 6th August.
 
“In that Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye election, the system of Simultaneous Accreditation and Voting was used. The election went well, but with a few challenges, mainly in the area of ensuring that the voters maintain the required physical distance.”
 
Oyekanmi maintained that inspite of the challenge of ensuring physical distancing among the voters; the simultaneous accreditation and voting process would be at play in Edo poll.
 
“ Since the system of Simultaneous Accreditation and Voting is part and parcel of the INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, it will be used for the Edo Governorship Election and subsequent elections,” he declared.
ALTHOUGH 14 registered political parties fulfilled INEC requirements for participation in the Edo gubernatorial poll, only the two leading parties, APC and PDP, have been dominating discussions.
 
But for their decision to substitute their original candidates for the election, the Action Alliance (AA), Labour Party (LP) and African Democratic Congress (ADC) would not have received prominent mention as the September 19 election date approaches.
 
National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Mr. Festus Okoye, had at the expiration of the substitution window on July 13, disclosed that only three parties applied and successfully replaced candidates they earlier nominated and submitted to the commission.
 
Okoye insisted that the withdrawal and substitution of candidates for the Edo governorship poll ended on July 13, in line with Section 35 of the Electoral Act and INEC’s Timetable and schedule of activities. He declared that political parties could no longer withdraw or substitute candidates.
 
But with the publication of the finalist of candidates, the situation on ground in Edo State is as if only the APC and PDP candidates, Ize-Iyamu and Obaseki would be on the ballot on September 19. 
 
Sources in both parties disclosed how some of the fringe political parties positioned themselves as possible alternative platforms for the two front row candidates in the tense build up to the nomination process.
 
For instance, it was gathered that the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the AA, waited on the flanks for the possible adoption by Obaseki, when it became obvious that the APC had foreclosed his candidacy through disqualification for the election.
 
SDP’s decision of fielding the state chairman, Elder Felix Obahiagbon as its governorship standard bearer was said to be a last ditch effort to fill the void created by the Obaseki entry to PDP and lack of any other aspirant.
 
On its part, the AA was embroiled in intra-party wrangling when the state chapter accused the national leadership of imposition without taking into consideration the fact that discussions were on in the state to select a competitive candidate.
 
However, as the other political parties remain on the wayside, voters would have to grapple with the confusion created by the change of platforms by Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu.
 
How can those who want to vote for Obaseki, based on the achievements of APC government in the past four years reward him on PDP? How can those who voted for Obaseki when he contested on PDP want to vote APC if their major motivation was the fact of his platform?
 
With this confusion, it is possible that the September 19 election would not be a referendum on the past four years of Governor Obaseki or even the federal government.
 
Explaining that the major part of the battle would be fought on the basis of party, a former prominent PDP governorship aspirant, Barrister Ken Imasuagbon, told The Guardian that many voters in the state feel that APC has not been kind to Edo State.
 
Imasuagbon remarked that it was a sign of disrespect that the governing party did not allow Chief John Odigie-Oyegun to serve a second term in office as national chairman, cut short Adams Oshiomhole’s tenure and succeeded in disqualifying Governor Obaseki from seeking a second term on its platform. 
 
But the former National Vice Chairman (South/South Zone), Chief Hillard Etta, maintains that Edo State being within the progressive fold, the state would continue to vote APC, adding that the same percentage of voters that chose APC in previous elections would still vote along that line out of their love for President Muhammadu Buhari.
 
Etta noted that Edo people are never comfortable with opposition, stressing that they are wise enough to know the benefits of belonging to the mainstream of Nigeria’s politics.

Making Votes Count
ONE other weighty choice before Edo State electorate is how to ensure that their votes count after balloting. With the heavy stress on power of incumbency across the two major parties, the threat of rigging has become rife.
 
Both APC and PDP have been alleging possible resort to rigging and making accusations and counter-accusations against each other. The immediate past APC national chairman, Oshiomhole, told State House reporters that he had won many elections in the state without recourse to violence.
   
Governor Obaseki on his part urged the people to endeavor to remain at their polling booths after casting their ballot to ensure that their choice was not supplanted, claiming that his rivals want to hijack the process. 
 
In the final analysis, it would be seen whether the rhetoric preceding the election would frighten the voters or even, whether the COVID-19 protocol of physical distancing would permit voters to stay back after casting their ballot to ensure that they are counted and made to count.


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